The Cost of AP Exams

Now that I'm back from vacation and summer's winding down I thought I'd start getting back to more classroom related posts. I still have a few summer topics I want to write about – standards and side projects in particular but I'm also looking forward to talking more about the classroom since, after all, at my core, I'm a teacher. When I saw this article in my inbox this morning I thought I'd talk about it.

In the piece, Lindsey Tepe since more kids are taking AP classes and they're very expensive, schools should look to lower other costs related to AP classes so as to provide financial support so that students can take that oh so important end of year exam:

While the College Board continues to reimburse about one-third of the test cost for eligible low-income students, only about half of states are now offering any further financial assistance for students.

Ms. Tepe's solution? Lower text book costs. As a way of lowering school costs, I'm all for it. I've used free online resources in lieu of textbooks for years but the savings should go somewhere where it can make a difference. Perhaps lowering class sizes. The fatal flaw in Ms. Teps's piece is that it continues spinning the misplaced narrative that AP Exams are a very important part of a child's education.

Let's be reminded of something: The AP Exam is one thing - an exam - a single test at the end of the year.

The narrative is that students should take more and more AP classes, that they're somehow better for kids. Part of this is due to the potential college credit and part is because the public has been bamboozled by the ridiculous school ratings that give credit for AP classes taken. Back in "the day," AP classes were basically early college. You could then argue that they were the most rigorous classes offered in a school. AP Calc was basically college Calc. Same for APCS-AB, AP-Bio and the rest. Now, with classes like APCS-P aimed to be accessible to typical high school students in the lower grades, they can't (but still will) make that claim. In fact, at Stuy, my former school, there are plenty of non AP classes that are more rigorous than AP classes and the best AP teachers don't always cover the whole syllabus because they're more concerned with their students actually learning rather than scoring 5 on an exam.

On the college credit front, if a student has a high probability of saving money through AP credit then I'm all for it but otherwise, it's just money going to the college board.

It seems ridiculous for me to have to write this but the important part of a class is, you know, the class. Not the single exam given by an outside agency at the end and graded after the semester concludes.

My suggestion? Offer college level work to students that are ready for it but don't push the AP exam. This would save a ton of money. What value does the college board actually bring to the table? Remember, they're making a pretty penny on all of this testing. A math teacher should be able to teach calculus with or without AP. A good text being used by that teacher in class - be it free or paid for is actually much more important to a student learning calculus than a single exam taken at the end of the year. I'd go further and say that I'd trust the teacher's exam more than the college board's. If a teacher knows the math but needs to see some sample syllabi, they're a web search way. The same is true for most other college courses that have AP equivalents and maybe even more so for computer science.

At the end of the day it should be about students learning not about students taking high stakes exams.


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